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Sunday, September 27, 2020

Cloud Peak 500 (Day 2) - Riding The Storm Out

It's a hard life to live, but it gives back what you give
And I'm not missing a thing, watching the full moon crossing the range
Riding the storm out. Riding the storm out. Riding the storm out. Riding the storm out.
Riding The Storm Out, Gary Richrath, REO Speedwagon (1973).

Dawn breaks early, after yesterday's meltdown. Our Cloud Peak 500 trip hangs in a precarious balance. My morning Bible study is brief and simple, leaving me with a singular thought. Trust. 

I quietly pack, eat a hot breakfast and ease out of Ranger Creek Campground as the sky ambles toward blue. Today I carry no expectations. I'll pedal into whatever the day brings. Trust.

The first 11 miles climb about 1,600 feet to an elevation of about 9,300 feet. Then the route rolls generally downhill, with a few bumps, to Burgess Junction at about 8,100 feet at Mile 82. There we plan to stop at the Bear Lodge Resort to eat lunch, top off water, and re-charge batteries. We also will decide whether to continue this trip or not. Trust.

Red Grade is a hard road to ride, but it gives back what you give.

But today is not a day for numbers. Today is a day to just ride. A day to find a sustainable rhythm and a positive mindset. To enjoy the day, whatever it brings. Whether the end of the trip, a fresh start, or something entirely different.

Right away, I feel good. Solid. Smooth. Comfortable. Familiar. I'm turning pedals at a steady cadence on a cool morning ride in the mountains. I feel at home. This is good. This is very good.

The initial 11 mile climb winds up forested mountains, with occasional glimpses of snowy peaks above. It's a civilized start today, thanks to the reasonable grade, solid road surface and moderate temperatures. The miles pass calmly, almost meditatively. Before long, we pull into the USFS Dead Swede Campground for a congratulatory break. The big climb up Red Grade Road is essentially over.

 Early on Day 2, I'm riding the storm out on Red Grade Road.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

What a wonderful morning. We cruise mostly downhill to U.S. Highway 14 and then a few paved miles to Burgess Junction at Mile 82. Well before noon, we've covered about 30 miles and gained about 2,500 feet of elevation. More importantly, I feel great. With a short break to re-fuel, I'm ready to roll.

So, just like that, the anticipated big decision at the Bear Lodge Resort turns into a non-event. No turning off this trip. I'm back. 

We order burgers, fries and bottomless Cokes. Paul adds a salad and some snacks for the road, while charging his batteries. Conventional tourists stop by to chat, ask questions and share their cycling stories. It's a relaxing, replenishing, re-affirming break. 

Paul Brasby and Craig Groseth celebrating at USFS Dead Swede Campground, Mile 72.

Leaving the comforting confines of Bear Lodge Resort, we turn north on USFS 15 to climb into the largely tree-less expanse of Bull Park up to the high altitude Kane Cow Camp. By now, the sun burns brightly, but not unreasonably hot at our 8,000+ foot altitude. Yee-Haw! We're about to enter the high country of the Northern Big Horns.

We roll comfortably for several miles and then climb steadily for another 6 miles on solid gravel roads with moderate gradients. This stretch requires some work, but rewards with ever-expanding views, above and below. Other than a couple of cowboys in pickups, we ride alone.

Climbing toward Kane Cow Camp at an elevation of about 9,100 feet.

A couple of steep switch backs and a long, sweeping pitch bring us up to Kane Cow Camp, the top of this climb at about Mile 96 and 9,100 feet elevation. We have ridden past other spots identified as "cow camps" along the route, but they have been devoid of people and equipment. Here, Kane Cow Camp looks to be completely set up for a large round up soon, although we don't see anyone there.

We drop down Dayton Gulch a bit as it winds toward the Little BigHorn River. The gravel road remains relatively firm and fast, rolling between 8,500 feet and 9,000, in and out of the forested mountains. Then, an unexpected, almost 4 mile descent elicits random hoops and hollers as we coast those loaded bikes up to warp speed. Sweetness! Rock & Roll is here to stay!

After that boost to morale and average speed, we climb gradually along the Little BigHorn River, as the afternoon wanes. Not far ahead, the route crosses U.S. Highway 14A and turns decidedly up and above tree line. We look for a nice spot to disperse camp among the trees.

Riding into the Clouds and toward the Peaks on Day 2. At this point, we're not ready to camp anyhow.

We spot a picturesque meadow at the edge of the forest with a stream and mountain top view to the east. Perfect spot. Perfect time to stop for the day. Perfect place to start tomorrow's ride.

After pitching our tents, we process the day over a hot meal. In total, we rode 52 miles and gained over 5,000 feet of elevation. So, for Paul, that makes 104 miles and 11,800 feet of elevation gain for the first 2 days. I'm at 93 miles and 9,200 feet of elevation gain, due to my truncated Day 1.

As the day unfolded, we certainly could have ridden more miles, but this day was not about numbers. We rode steadily all morning, ate a solid meal at a long lunch break, and continued to ride steadily into late afternoon. Throughout the day, we successfully managed hydration, nutrition, heat, effort, and, most importantly, mindset. We started and ended during day light at reasonable hours. We even found a great camp site in time to enjoy a quiet evening watching the surrounding mountains turn colors as the sun set. 

Sunset reflected on a mountain top from our dispersed campsite.

This day is awesome. This day is why we ride. And why we continue to ride after a day like yesterday. 

Our Cloud Peak 500 trip continues, as we ride yesterday's storm out.

I begin the day focused on trust. I finish with gratitude.

Riding The Storm Out, REO SpeedWagon live (1983).

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